Sunday, September 27, 2015

"Accountability" Might be the Match that Sparks a Revolution in Public Education

Three weeks ago I transferred to an impoverished school because my former school needed to lose another teacher.  Not enough students attend now to support a programming teacher.  We lost our Chinese teacher the month before.  So many teachers over 40 had been constructively dismissed by the administration in the year prior I took the opportunity to escape.  I moved to a new school and I am glad I did.

The administrative team here is supportive.  The teachers are forging a culture of camaraderie to do the improbable. The school offers art, dance, music and socio-emotional learning opportunities which make it a good place to be.  The students are good kids but there are still barriers in place due to the poverty of the population.

Parents are so busy trying get the complex needs of their families met that aren't able to give as many opportunities. If it is going to cost $8 to put everyone on the bus to go to the free day at the Frist. The free day on Oct 18 becomes a $16 day. That $16 may be needed to pay the light bill. The issues these children are facing are not the fault of their families or of the students. Poverty is a handicapping condition.

Stressed out students in poverty do not retain information as readily as their less stressed peers.  For example, I taught them the day before about a blue moon being an event where there are two full moons in a calendar month. The next day they asked me to tell them how the moon turns blue.  They remembered the term blue moon, which is good, but none of them remembered the concept.

They do not have the same baseline knowledge.  I gave them an article on the Pope coming to speak at a poor school in Harlem.  I thought they would be excited to hear about the papal visit by a pontiff who has compassion for kids living in similar situations.  I asked them to write any vocabulary they did not know on the board so we could go over it.  They wrote Pope, Catholic, and Cathedral. I doubt you could understand the text without these concepts.  I used it as a teaching moment.  I may create a humanities center for my classroom.

I gave a Math test using the questions formulated by Pearson because these questions are supposed to be very much like the questions my students will face on the upcoming TNReady, a thinly veiled Pearson exam.  I taught the ways I've always taught. I have high scores so my methods have demonstrated success.  My new students did not do well on this test.

I began to deconstruct why they performed poorly.  The test questions are high level word problems. If you cannot get the meaning out of the text and find the right algorithm, then you never get to show you know the Math.  We will attempt to train them to survive the test but we are told we must.  That's really not a great basis for a full, rich, broad education.

This lovely little school will live or die by these upcoming test scores.  Survival looks bleak with the form of testing we are facing.  I now see clearly how elitist education reforms have become.  For our high stress, low income, students who struggle with reading and vocabulary this test is unnecessarily burdensome and is limiting their education. We need a revolution. We need education that hones each child's unique giftedness instead of forces conformity to an unreasonable testing standard.

Sir Ken Robinson has written a book to highlight the path.  The link to Creative Schools is listed below.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

So this teacher walks into a Maker Faire

Last week, Nashville had an embarrassment of riches.  There were so many things to see and do.  The Greek Festival, the Italian Festival,Tennessee State Fair and so many others.  Since I am a geek I chose to attend Nashville's geek festival, the Mini Maker Faire, sponsored by Make Nashville and the Adventure Science Center.

We were able to watch 3D printing, aluminum smelting and science demos, all of which were delightful.  But the best part was the chance to see so many creative people channel their creativity in unexpected-brilliant ways.  I stood inside a responsive-geodesic dome a woman had built and was programming to have the images move and dance with the people who were in it.  My daughter held the bridle of a dinosaur.  I learned some things about paper from the origami artists who meet at Plaza Art that were mind blowing.

This weekend was the same.  I simply could not choose.  There were Arduino classes that showed us how to connect motors of all sizes to controllers.  I am so glad to have been able to attend these classes.  There are so many things I want to build.

Tonight we are attending Nashville's inaugural Game Jam.  There are multiple opportunities to learn by doing in Nashville.  There are so many users groups to join, attending the meetings alone could be a full time job, a dream job.

In the last year we have attended events with The Global Game Jam,  Hack Nashville, Make Nashville, Middle Tennessee Robotic Arts Society, Nashville Women Programmers and so many others.  Every time my family and I attend an event we learn something we would not have learned otherwise and new opportunities keep opening.  Right now I just had a guy ask me if I can create a sprite.  Of course I can.  I will learn the basics of a new program and create something I would not have know how to build otherwise. I love this town and the free chances to learn that are available here.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Teach In!

SO I went out to lunch to plan the week with one of the teams I work with.  We located a coffee shop with wifi and staked out a booth to spread out our curriculum, books, computers, and lunches and began the work we do all the time.  But today was different.  We were in a public place and we begin to hear comments.

"What are they doing?"
"They are teachers getting ready for the week."
"Oh my G--, I had no idea that was so involved."

I realized then John Q Public really has no idea what is going on in our classrooms or what is involved in the job of teaching.  We have to know our curriculum, where our students are in the learning process and decipher what they need next.  When children are failing we have to figure out how to reteach them so they learn it.

In four hours we had a plan to create rotating groups for the week, re-mediate children who had fallen behind, teach responsively, provide memory scaffolding, review and test on the curriculum for science and math.  The people around us were surprised and I hope a little impressed.  They should be!  Effective teaching is awesome and so is this team of teachers.

Two things have occurred to me.  The first, I have put in more than 50 hours this week on my work. The kids are worth it but I am going to need to begin to limit myself to 50 hours or less.  The other thing I realized is Nashville and other school districts could really benefit from a 'Teach IN'!

I just came up with the idea today.  I would like for every teacher to select one Sunday afternoon on the calendar and go out to lunch to plan with colleagues.  Regardless of your political stripe or professional affiliation, this is something that all of us can do easily.  It will give the non-teachers in our communities an inkling of what we do and why we do it.  We teach for the benefit of the children of our city. We are bright, capable, dedicated professionals.  The rhetoric of 'bad teachers' is light years from the reality.  Educating the people we help could help turn the tide to save our public schools.  We just need to pick a day and spread the word.  Thoughts?

Monday, September 7, 2015

This Labor Day I'm thinking about Little Abner

Little Abner was a brilliant comic strip by Al Capp.  It was written before my time but I remember my father telling me about it.  It was one of his favorite comic strips when he was young.

One of the recurring characters was a Shmoo.  Shmoos are so sweet and super accommodating.  They have a huge rear end and were written to represent the American worker.  The Shmoo liked nothing better than to be kicked in the pants.

Mr Capp noticed the American worker would bend over backward to keep the boss happy even when it really hurt.  They would not stand up to improve their situation.

This is the natural way.  Humans are herd like animals. When on their own they get kicked in the pants, A-LOT but when they organize they begin to look less like Shmoos.

When a group of workers organize they have rights they would not have otherwise.  They can discuss working conditions, organize as a group and even critique management.  These rights create checks and balances in large organizations where the employees work.

There are some barriers to organizing right now.  Workers rights have been eroded and sometimes organizers face punitive action.

In 1948 the  Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated, “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”  Times have changed and these rights are not being protected under the current legislation.  But Fear Not!  New legislation is being considered which would add the right to organize to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  This would allow workers to sue in federal court if they are discriminated against for trying to organize.  But what can we do until this legislation passes?

What can you do to strengthen existing rights?  You can join a related association. A trade association, a union, or a group like BATs may be what you need.  If you are a teacher there are many to choose from. Research carefully and choose the most effective for your purposes.  

Support local action to protect your own rights and the rights of your fellow workers.  This is important because our working conditions are the students learning conditions.  Unless we all work together to improve working conditions, teaching will become a high-churn, low-quality environment.  I don't want that for my fellow teachers or my students.  For the sake of all stake holders teachers need to stand up and insist on proper working conditions.  

Today I am grateful for the active, volunteers who earned Labor Day, eight hour work day, minimum wage and so many other rights.  Even though they are long gone their actions reverberate down through the ages.  Do not be afraid to join together with others to make improvements.  It may be the only thing that can save public education today.  

I am posting this tonight as a grateful member of Professional Educators of Tennessee.  I am looking forward to working with other members and other teachers to rebuild our public schools into what they can be.  

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Looking forward to a weekend spent with family

This weeks post will be a little later than usual due to the holiday weekend.  I am going to imagine it's still teacher summer and soak up some rays to rejuvenate for the week ahead. I hope you enjoy your holiday.  I'll talk with you soon. Amy